The Utah Jazz have been stuck in 10th place in the West for what feels like forever. But that is more than likely to change this week.
If you had told me two months ago that the Utah Jazz would go on a streak of 18 wins in 20 games, but would still be stuck in 10th place in the West, I probably would have brushed it aside as crazy talk. Nevertheless, here we are and such is certainly still the case. Despite how hot the Jazz have been of late, the teams ahead of them in the standings have been just good enough to keep Utah locked at two spots out of the playoff mix.
However, I have a strong feeling that such is finally about to change. The Jazz find themselves in a virtual tie with both the Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers, are just a half-game behind the seventh place San Antonio Spurs and are 1.5 games back of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans.
I’m not saying the Jazz are going to surge all the way up to that fourth-place spot in the West this week, or even at all this season (although some models give the Jazz the highest probability of reaching the four-seed as you can see in the tweet below), but I do think they’re in an exceptional spot to be in at least eighth place by the start of next week.
The first reason for that is because of their light schedule in the coming days, as they’ll play a trio of games at home this week against middling opponents – the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, the Phoenix Suns on Thursday and Sacramento Kings on Saturday. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I think there’s a strong possibility that Utah wins all three, extending their win streak to nine straight and bumping up their record to an impressive 40-30.
Meanwhile, although pretty much every team seeded 3-10 has tougher schedules to close out the year than the Jazz do, which is why Utah may very well be able to surge to wrap up the season, two in particular are in very real danger of dropping behind the Jazz this week, allowing Utah to slip into eighth. Those two teams are the LA Clippers and, surprisingly, the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs could very well drop behind the Jazz tonight as they’ll take a banged up squad into Clutch City to take on the red hot Houston Rockets. Not only have the Spurs lost eight of their last ten, but they’re still awaiting the return of Kawhi Leonard and will be without both LaMarcus Aldridge and Manu Ginobili. If the Spurs fall this evening, which one has to assume they will, they’ll drop down to tenth place in the West, finally bumping Utah ahead of that spot.
From there, the Spurs face the Orlando Magic, who they should beat, then host the Pelicans in a contest that could be a battle, especially if Kawhi Leonard makes his return that night as he’s aiming to do. Regardless of which of those two teams loses, it ultimately helps the Jazz as they look to advance past both of them. The Spurs then go on to face the Timberwolves on Saturday in a game that provides yet another win-win for the Jazz.
In fact, with the Wolves facing the Washington Wizards, Spurs and Rockets in their trio of games this week, they could also be considered a candidate to drop below the Jazz depending on how things turn out.
But even if the Spurs get hot and win the final three games of the week, so long as Utah goes undefeated (as they should) and San Antonio drops tonight’s bout to the Rockets, the Jazz will assuredly pull ahead of them making them the top candidate to be surpassed by Utah.
The LA Clippers are also likely set to finally slide as, after facing the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, they’ll face the Houston Rockets, OKC Thunder, and Portland Trail Blazers this week. They’re more than likely to drop at least one of those, which once again, if Utah remains undefeated, would give them the edge by Monday of next week.
One could argue that the Pelicans could tumble below the Jazz here soon as well, as they will face the Spurs, Rockets and Boston Celtics this week. Ultimately the results will depend on a lot of the significant head-to-head games such as Pelicans-Spurs, Timberwolves-Spurs and Clippers-Thunder, to name a few. In each of those bouts, no matter who loses, the Jazz win. So while it’s hard to know which specific teams Utah may surpass this week, with all this adding up, it’s no stretch to say that by next Monday the Jazz will at least be in eighth place.
Last of all, the Denver Nuggets have a relatively light week as they’ll face the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies, but they’ve been erratic of late, so perhaps they’ll drop one or more to allow the Jazz to get past them as well. The Thunder have a pretty easy slate to start the week against the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks, but then they’ll wrap it up by playing the Clippers in one of those aforementioned win-wins for the Jazz, and the East-leading Toronto Raptors on Sunday.
That’s a lot of tough opponents for Utah’s closest competitors in the standings while the Jazz will be tangling with a slew of lottery teams. With that being said, the key cog in making this happen is for Utah to take care of business. They’re playing confidently, and rightfully so, but they can’t let any of their recent success go to their heads.
After winning 18 of their last 20 games, the playoffs are right within striking distance and theirs for the taking. However, to get into the top eight by the start of next week, they’ll need to remain focused and go undefeated this week against three beatable teams.
It isn’t going to be easy, but if they do it, come next Monday the 19th, we should find the Utah Jazz within the playoff mix.
And based on how well the Jazz have played of late, I truly believe that such is going to end up being precisely the case.